Chant is my newest large painting, just completed after a month of adding image after image of slender, colorful trunks to what became a virtual thicket of birch portraits. It's the most complicated single painting of multiple birch portraits I've ever done, and working on it has been an absolute delight. These are just thirty-one of the thousands of beautiful birches that Dorli and I pass on our every-other-day, year-round runs on the forest trails from our home. Like the drawing that I posted an image of on the blog last month, it's an outgrowth of the tiny little card I painted for her in November, with 60 birches for her 60th birthday. I loved the way those thin trunks created an allover field, the positive spaces of the trunks and the negative spaces between them dancing across the surface.
The other inspiration for this new painting was learning recently about melisma--the musical stretching of a single syllable over a run of many notes. You hear it in Gregorian chant, one syllable of text expanding in florid fashion into fifty or more notes. It occurred to me that that's what my little card with sixty birches was like, and that it would be fun to try the same thing on a much larger and even more intricate scale. As so often, I didn't realize until two weeks of work stretched into three, and then four, what I was getting into when I began.
The trails we run on are part of a vast network of hilly, twisting paths through almost entirely unpeopled and unbuilt-upon forest, braiding up and over Skyline Ridge north of Fairbanks and down into the Goldstream Valley for dozens of miles. Most days, we do a favorite out-and-back, six-mile loop, and along the way we pass numerous features that have become markers for us of our progress. Two of those are particularly beautiful birches that Dorli long-ago dubbed the "Two-Mile Tree" and "Two and a Half-Mile Tree," marking their distance from our door. For Valentine's Day this year, I painted her this portrait of her favorite, the Two-Mile Tree.
When I have painted, as recently, a couple of very large works that each take weeks and weeks to complete, I frequently find myself hankering to do something smallish and fun, something that I can complete in a reasonable amount of time. In the same way, when I've been painting thinly, with diaphanous transparent washes of acrylic as I have for some time now, in search of a particular kind of luminosity, I often find myself missing and craving the juicy, sensual materiality of thick oil paint. Two-Mile Tree gave me the opportunity not only to paint a valentine, but to feed those artistic desires.
Finally this month, I want to give you another kind of glimpse of my new studio. An Anchorage collector of my work who drove up this fall to pick up a big painting from the studio made a wonderful little video of the main working space with his iPhone, just standing in the middle and rotating slowly. He suggested I do something of the same sort for the blog, and I've finally gotten around to it. I hope you will enjoy this less-than-a-minute of imagery and narration.